Time to stand and stare

National Poetry Month, Day 4  //  For too long I lived by the Red Queen’s advice to Alice: “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that” (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass)! Now I find I’m getting somewhere I’d much rather be by slowing down. Decades ago, when I still lived in my hometown, I’d sit for hours on a high limestone promontory overlooking the Mississippi River and the LaRue Pine Hills swamp and Shawnee Forest beyond, doing nothing but sitting. It was my zazen before I knew what zazen is. There is a whisper of life – “the music of the spheres,” Maltbie Babcock called it in his hymn “This Is My Father’s World” – impossible to hear unless one becomes very quiet, and there are aspects of life impossible to see unless one stands very still and looks long enough and steadily enough to pierce the scrim of the superficial. Two of the gifts of my later years are the gifts of hearing and seeing things that were always present but inaccessible in my running through life. This is a season in which “to stand and stare,” as William Henry Davies counseled.

“Leisure,” by William Henry Davies (1871-1940)

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

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